Place in Vibrant and Vulnerable Times: An Interdisciplinary Conversation


An oldie but goodie: Sonja Swift’s talk on place she gave as part of the Place panel at the February 2013 residency. Sonja completed her Individualized MA at Goddard that year and continued writing, talking, and serving. Read some of her more recent writing here and here.

In speaking of place it feels appropriate, if not essential, to introduce myself within the context of the place I am from: my original place, my place of origin.

This leads me to think about how in today’s world many of us are descendants of immigrants or refugees so place or territory doesn’t overlap with heritage or ancestry in the way it used to. So our original place tends to get left out of introductions, sidelined. We name the cities or towns in which we dwell, the states or nation states, instead.

I think there is something very powerful and worthy in taking the time to more explicitly introduce oneself in terms of place based origin. I think it is a really human way of introducing oneself.

I am a child of North America with European bloodlines. To my American side, I am half Danish. To my Danish side, I am a yank. I consider myself first and foremost a child of this continent and more specifically from a landscape on its western edge.

I grew up amidst oak groves and sagebrush in the California foothills on the central coast. South of Big Sur. North of Point Conception. I fell asleep each night to the howls of coyotes. Red tailed hawks keep a close eye over the valley and the Pacific Ocean is visible from the ridgelines. There were cougars and rattlers to keep eye for. We raised Texas longhorn and subtropical fruit. It was a lonesome paradise. In many ways it was the land the raised me, the land that gave me sanctuary.

The spaciousness of where I grew up gave me room enough to endure a dysfunctional family reality. It also meant that I’d later have to learn how to find that same spaciousness, the spaciousness of rolling hills and open ridgelines, within. It is a process I am still amidst.

So that is where I’m from. It is as much a part of me as the color of my eyes.

The only other place I’ve found a similar sense of place is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I think, in part, this is because the landscape is familiar in an uncanny way. The perennial grasses are more intact than in California, where overgrazing after the Spaniards arrived took a heavy toll. There are ponderosa instead of live oak, and the vista glimpsed from the ridges isn’t the ocean, it is the wide-open of the Great Plains. But there is that similar endlessness, and similar rolling, grassy, ruggedly beautiful terrain.

I think we are molded by landscape. We embody the places we are from and carry them with us wherever we go. This can be a very powerful thing, especially for people who are exiled from the places they love. I am thinking of a friend of mine, a Tibetan nun, who in all likelihood will never return to her homeland.

I also think that if given the opportunity to connect to the earth at a young age then we can feel at home anywhere. I think this elemental connection is essential to our survival.

There are a lot of people today who don’t seem to feel at home on the earth and I say that because they are doing a fine job wrecking it.

Ultimately though, I think the topic of place opens up a conversation about re-indigenizing ourselves as bodies born of this Earth.

When I think about what I value in indigenous cultures I think of coherent self-awareness rooted in terrain. I think of language being in touch with non-language, sophisticated and intact sensory somatic intelligence, a fearlessness about death, interspecies communication, innate attentiveness to synchronistic events, and a very basic, unquestioned knowing of oneness with all of life.

These qualities are not limited to un-contacted tribes in the heart of the Amazon or the Plains Indians pre genocide. These are universally human characteristics of human in contact with place, characteristics that have been fragmented and forgotten in a myriad of ways.

The real question is how are people today NOT aware of the whole planet as a living organism??

How are people NOT connected to place, to earth, to our shared existence?

I think it has a lot to do with trauma. The recklessness we are dealing with today has to do with the opposite of place: displacement, by way of colonialism primarily, and the trauma that came with it.

So I think the value of discussing place within the context of our times is to remember that we are only as intelligent as we are in contact with the intelligence around us.

We are intelligent in relationship to place.

Asterile, devoid landscape, a bombed and desiccated city, creates a parallel kind of mind. To destroy this animate earth is to wreck our opportunities to learn from and receive intelligence beyond us, but part of us, at once.

We can easily get overly intellectual about this topic but at the end of it all I think it has everything to do with the pure love of being alive.

Posted in Deep Ecology & Bioregionalism, Embodiment Studies & Body Image, Environmental, Sustainability & Place Studies | Tagged | Leave a comment

Complementary Dualism and the Work of Dr. Hillary S. Webb

Hillary S. Webb went onto earn her doctorate after earning her MA in Goddard’s Consciousness Studies concentration. Building on her master’s thesis, her newest book, Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru, focuses on her own scholarly and personal journey as well as well as her study of yanantin — complementary opposites. Now she will be returning to Goddard during the August, 2012 fall residency to speak with students and present a workshop on where her studies have taken her, and what she discovered along the way.

Bonnie Glass-Coffin, author of The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru, calls Webb’s book, “An outstanding, important work … In addition to adding to the ethnographic literature about these fundamental concepts that inform Andean world views, it adds a fabulous case example that will be cited long into the future”

Stanley Kripner, author of Psychiatrist in Paradise: Treating Mental Illness in Bali, explains that the book “….recounts the compelling scholarly and personal odyssey of Dr. Hillary Webb, an anthropologist who came to understand the Andean complementary worldview as a sophisticated and practical philosophical model and, in doing so, was transformed both personally and professionally. Many readers of this book will no doubt be transformed as well.”

To read an excerpt of the book, “Mind and Body; Flesh and Spirit,” click here.

Posted in Consciousness Studies/Transpersonal Psychology, Cultural & Cross-Cultural Studies, Philosophy & Neurophilosophy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Patterson Interviewed at Poets & Writers

patterson_1-450x450Jennifer Patterson is one of the keynote presenters at the 15th Annual Power of Words conference, Oct. 12-14 at Goddard College. Other Goddard faculty, students, and alumni will be attending and presenting, including Seema Reza, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Joanna Tebbs Young, Ruth Farmer, Emilee Baum, and Angie Ebba. The conference is a project of the Transformative Language Arts Network in partnership with Goddard College.

Check out IMA graduate Jennifer (Jennye) Patterson interview at Poets and Writers about her workshops for writers to help them move toward multi-dimensional creativity, survivorship, and healing. In he interview, she reflects on her thesis, which combined writing, embroidery, and scholarship from embodiment studies, queer studies, survivor studies, and many other fields and traditions:

I recently finished a thesis (and soon to be manuscript) on trauma, somatic writing and embroidery—using stitch as a metaphor for making and remaking the wound—and it was incredibly difficult work so I’ve been taking a little breather. Some weeks the only time I write is in the workshop, which feels a bit funny to admit. But I also get to remember how writing supports me feeling more in my own life, more alive.

Jennye, as she’s described in the article, “a grief worker who uses words, threads, and plants to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing.” She is also the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016), and she leads trauma-focused writing and embroidery workshops widely. Additionally, she is a practitioner with the Breathe Network and through her practie Corpus Ritual Apothecary. Learn more about her at

Posted in Activism, Creative Writing, Embodiment Studies & Body Image, Queer Studies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Danielle Boutet: Alchemy, Art and Knowledge That Matters and Connects

Danielle Boutet is concerned with knowledge that makes sense, means something, and connects us to ourselves and the world. Furthermore, this kind of knowledge isn’t so much in librairies and research papers, but is embodied in knowers. “We all have knowledge inside, and (learning) is a matter of clarifying it…..I don’t know any knowledge that isn’t in a knower somewhere.”

Teaching at Université du Québec à Rimouski, she works with undergraduates and graduates, encouraging them to find this knowledge. In her previous shape-shifting ways, she served Goddard as a student, faculty member, founder and program director of the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, and academic dean, continually looking at epistemology — how we know what we know — and transformative practices, particularly as they relate to the arts, that transform the artist through the process of creation and discovery.

Danielle contextualizes transformative practices by looking at third-person, second-person and first-person research and knowledge. Most traditional academic fields focus on third-person research: finding out what people think, know or do on a particular topic, compiling and analyzing data. “In my own world, I have this huge criticism of the scientific paradigm and third person research and knowledge that can be stored, that can be written down, that can be transmitted,” Danielle explains. Instead, she recommends looking at what you want to know, why it’s important to you to learn this, and what it means to you — first-person research — as well as what/who you are in relationship to, the conversation between you and this other, and what happens in the space between you — second-person research. One of the writing prompts she often employs is “Je souviens…” — “I remember…” — to help people bring to the page what they’ve lived.

“The knowledge that we’re looking for is the knowledge that really informs the world, and informs our lives,” she says. “The key sentence I give to all my students is, ‘There is no knowledge without the knowledge of knowledge.'”

As an artist, scholar, musician, composer and writer, Danielle thinks in terms of alchemy: “A way of knowing that uses matter and material transformation as a way to know things. It cannot be abstract. It has to be felt, it has to be experienced….It is this notion of art as a way of knowing that I’m always after.” She explains that the origins of art as a way of knowing go back to the first humans and our inate intuition. “If we go back to 100,00 years ago, the Neandrethals had the belief there was something else [besides what they could see], a whole theory of art based on the belief in the invisible….They had the intuition that there is something to be read in what they see. If they see charred bones, they’re looking at them and thinking they must say something. That intuition has been with human beings throughout the entire history. That’s the connection with the sacred.”

How this translates into today? “We ourselves collect an incredible archive of knowledge, and it has relevance in the world.” To learn more, read Danielle’s excellent essay, “Epistemic Companions: Art and the Sacred.”

Posted in Creativity & Imagination, Epistemology (how we know what we know), Spirituality & Religion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Interview with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

imageCMG Negative Capability Press Blog IVGGI Faculty Member, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg was a featured poet on Negative Capability Press’ blog.

AL: First things first, imagine we could have met anywhere in the world for this interview, where would it have been and what would we be sipping on?

CMG: It would be on my front porch, which faces emerging woodlands composed of mostly cedar and Osage orange trees and a whole lot of bramble. As far as what we’re sipping on, I’m afraid that would be kind of boring: iced tea, but maybe we’d get wild and have a twist of lime in our tea. More to the point for me would be what we’re eating, and since I’ve been thinking a lot about my forthcoming novel, Miriam’s Well, in which my main character cooks and bakes for people throughout the book – and the book also has 40 pages of her recipes in it – I’m going to say we’ll be snacking on chocolate-raspberry rugalach, a Jewish buttery cookie, rolled up and baked into a crescent. Ideally, it would be about 70 degrees with a light breeze and a whole lot of bird song, and my cats would be jumping through the window between the porch and one of the bedrooms, circling us suspiciously but eventually settling down with my big dog, a weimaraner-chocolate lab mix who just showed up at our house one day about six years ago.

To read the entire interview, go here

Posted in Arts-Based Inquiry, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Community Building, Creativity & Imagination, Deep Ecology & Bioregionalism, Environmental, Sustainability & Place Studies, Goddard Graduate Institute, Memoir, Life Writing & Autobiography, Miriam's Well, nature, Poetry, Right Livelihood/ Making a Living, Transformative Language Arts | Leave a comment

A Marriage of Spiritual Memoir & Community Workshops: Suzanne Adams

>When Suzanne Adams started IMA’s Transformative Language Arts concentration, she was already changing her life as a freelance writer and suburban stay-at-home Houston mother in a household of males. While she didn’t know what she was shifting toward, she had a sense that this change involved creative writing, community work, and spiritual growth.

She soon herself immersed in writing as a spiritual practice, studying spiritual autobiography, and TLA as a tool for social change and personal growth for girls. One faculty member with an evangelical Christian background suggested Suzanne explore healing stories within the framework of Christianity; another faculty member, who specialized in feminism, prompted Suzanne to write about feminist theology and mythology. Another faculty member’s expertise in workshop facilitation was invaluable in furthering Suzanne’s goal of offering expressive writing workshops in the community. By the end of her studies, she wrote Reclaiming the Lost, a powerful body of essays on spiritual questioning and questing, writing as a calling, and how her changes catalyzed profound changes in her marriage. Accompanying the memoir was a study of mythology, theology, history, literature, sociology and psychology as it related to her topic; and a practicum focused on expressive writing for teenage girls. The writing especially allowed her to write herself into voice, identity, and stronger connections with her family, female divinity, and the wild.

Since graduation, Suzanne was admitted into the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, where she found strong encouragement to revise the essay collection toward a memoir about how one spouse’s spiritual development can actually strengthen, and not necessarily, tear apart a marriage. She found even more support from her husband who, after reading her essays, even ones that weren’t very flattering of him and their relationship, said to her, “This is your story, and I think you’ve written it in such a way that would help others, and I encourage you to continue this work.” Suzanne says that his response, “helped us to work for more transformation along the way.” She soon starts working with Farnoosh Moshiri through Moshiri’s Studio 16, a highly competitive writing workshop.

She also started leading workshops in her community. “It’s All About You,” a workshop fostering empowerment, self-discovery and self-esteem for middle school girls, that she first piloted as her TLA practicum at Goddard, is now on its feet at a Houston area middle school as a project of ARTreach, a local grassroots arts organization. Adams is in the middle of facilitating two 90-minute sessions twice a week for five weeks, helping girls negotiate media influences, discover their voices and visions and dismantle damaging messages through writing and art exercises and discussions.

Suzanne found her time at Goddard turbo-charged her quest to write and seek spiritual connection. “When I finally got there, that (being at Goddard) was the biggest catalyst of all. I was taking little baby steps up until that point, and the transformation that came propelled me full-speed ahead,” Suzanne explains.

Posted in Community Building, Feminism, Women's & Gender Studies, Spiritual Memoir, Spirituality & Religion, Transformative Language Arts, Workshops | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sarah Van Hoy Commencement Speech: The Nature of Ecological Mind

Sarah-Van-Hoy-2017-140x112To our graduates – Barbara, Brighde, Erin, Jojo, Ray, Shakti, and Tim – you brought your questions, your care for the world, your insights and genius, your very radiant humanity. We are moved by your work and we are honored to have supported you in that work for the past few semesters.

To the families of our graduates – given or chosen. Your invisible support makes all of this possible.

To the friends, alumni, fellow students. Your presence indeed makes this a beloved community.

To our Program Director, Ruth Farmer, who works so lovingly and tirelessly behind the scenes, thank you for your endless support.

We acknowledge, also, the Winooski River watershed and the land that holds us during our time here, and we acknowledge the Abenaki people of the Wabenaki Confederacy. For Abenaki, this place is N’dakinna, or homeland, the unceded territory where they have lived continuously for fourteen thousand years.

As we acknowledge and presence the relationship between first peoples and this land, we invite into our field an awareness of the arc of history inside which the moment of our commencement ceremony is situated. The history that holds us moves from the ancient Beech and Maple forests of Northeast Turtle Island, through clearings of land, language, bodies, and culture — through centuries of colonization, dispossession, and resource extraction, and toward the precarious and fragile present in which we find ourselves here and now.

A visceral acknowledgement of this history also reminds us that the dystopian futures that we seek to avert have in many ways already happened. We cannot avert future dystopias while keeping the current ones in place. As Potawatami scholar Kyle Powis Whyte states, “for many Indigenous peoples in North America, we are already living in what our ancestors would have understood as dystopian or post-apocalyptic times. In a cataclysmically short period, the capitalist–colonialist partnership has destroyed our relationships with thousands of species and ecosystems.” (And other scholars have added: destroyed social relationships and structures and replaced them with consumerism, white supremacy and cis-heteropatriarchy.)

These visceral acknowledgements remind us, finally, that colonization is not an historic event but a set of contemporary processes and structures that continually act upon our bodies, our minds, our desires. They are enacted upon our language and the ways we create knowledge and they are enacted through consequences of that knowledge-making.

A visceral acknowledgement, a presencing of time and place, allows us not just to cope with or strategize about or comfort ourselves, not just to rest in the self-satisfaction of privileged access to dwindling resources and cultures of appropriation – but to feel deeply and respond deeply to what is happening inside larger social and ecological bodies. We become permeable to our longing, to our own ancestral memories, to our grief and hope, and to our visions for possible futures. Futures in which we remember and restore our ecological body, resist the sometimes alluring forms that disconnection can take, and revive the desires and languages that connect us to ourselves and to our human and ecological communities and hold us accountable to each other.

In so many ways, our graduates are demonstrating this work for us. They are mending the splits that have resulted from colonized knowledge making in each of their fields, whether it be linguistics, or health care, or poetics, or education.

So here we are at their commencement.

And commencement is, after all, an ecological word. It signifies a beginning and an ending, a beginning within an ending, a seasonal transition between one form to another. So as a way of acknowledging our graduates and their magnificent endeavors, we will track them through the Goddard seasons as they transition into new forms.

Our Goddard graduates came to us with something like the seed form of their work.

trichodesma genus includes forget me nots-SVHSeeds are very cool magical packages of potential. They contain both memory and futurity. And they use complex sacred mathematics to supercoil their embryonic DNA into highly intelligent, poetic condensations. Seeds often require a little adversity –many require freezing temperatures, fire, wind, or journeys through intestinal landscapes in order to germinate.

Also, seeds have tremendous personality differences. If you have ever looked at them under microscopes (you can Google this) you’ll see seeds with all kinds of interesting costumery. Some seeds are simple and sweet, some are complicated and mysterious, all are magical.

Graduates, you brought to us the seeds of your work, the supercoiled hybrid memory-futures of your questions, your intentions, your longings — your potentiated essence woven into spirals waiting to be unraveled and manifested.

Now there may have been different conscious reasons for coming to Goddard.

  • Decades of life experience to recognize and build upon
  • Not wanting to wade through someone else’s curricula
  • Not wanting to take the same courses, write the same papers, or to reproduce the same knowledge that already exists
  • Not wanting to be processed by the academic equivalent of corporate agriculture
  • Realizing it might take three traditional degrees to hold all your interests (economizing)
  • Or experiencing Goddard yourself as an undergrad!

Goddard alum Kris Hege states: you come to Goddard “when your ideas can’t be contained by any disciplinary box and when your body knows what the world needs to know.”

Justin Kagan adds: “(and) if your question is also a call to action to see the world differently.”

Whatever the conscious reason, your seed’s desire was to actualize its vision. And you listened. You honored this seed knowledge.ivy leafed toadflax seed-SVH

So then what happened?

Well, a seed goes through its necessary adversity (heat, cold, digestion, poop, trips through airports, etc) and then sits in the soil getting wet and swelling up. The protoplasm is activated. The seed coat starts to loosen. And eventually (drumroll) a little radicle pops out. This radicle is R-A-D-I-C-L-E.

You may remember the moment when your radicle first appeared. Maybe it was in someone else’s graduating student presentation. Or the Embodiment Studies colloquium. Or a conversation in the dining hall. You felt a little tingling and all of a sudden … woop … there is was. The little radicle.

It is different for everyone of course. You had to trust the process.

The radicle came out and then started to grow and bury itself … it was to become your root system and this is why maybe you felt a little upside down.

This is a variety of embodied knowing.

You put your roots down into the soil of your inquiry and grow connections. You start to feel more and more anchored. The roots are branching out like crazy and you’re having all kinds of symbiotic relationships with various microorganisms in the soil, exchanging nutrients and whatnot, and while you’re at it you’re actually changing the nature of the soil itself.

((A little thing about plants here. They make and use serotonin, which for us is a neurotransmitter, though “the reality is that neurotransmitters predate the formation of nervous tissue.” Serotonin and chemically similar compounds like auxin, melatonin, psylocibin, DMT share a structure called the indole ring – a structure that is very good at converting photons to biological energy and thus it played a role in our planet’s shift to an oxygen heavy atmosphere.

In plants these indole ring compounds will tend to increase branching and growth and in humans they enhance neutral networks.))

((Incidentally, chlorophyll also has ring structures but it is different. Chlorophyll looks a lot like hemoglobin – if you replace the iron in blood with magnesium you get chlorophyll. ))

Materially and poetically, we can make generative connections between plants and humans and the nature of ecological mind. The capacity (materially and poetically) to make connections, to form nourishing relationships, to anchor oneself in the soil and to influence the soil itself – this is both an epistemological and ecological activity. Eduardo Kohn, in his book How Forests Think, suggests: “How thoughts grow by association with other thoughts is not categorically different from how selves relate to each other. Semiosis is alive.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the plant, while the roots are busy underground making connections, the rest of the plant is bringing this energy up and out – seeking sunlight, engaging obstacles, trellising oneself upon objects, including other plants, using math to structure itself, transforming (translating) light into biology or vision into meaning.

If Donna Haraway asks: “what can thinking mean in the civilization in which we find ourselves” our plant metaphors tell us that new forms of thinking create new worlds, new possibilities for life.

So in case anyone couldn’t figure it out, I am describing the botanical equivalent of writing packets … or theses.

And now, here we are. Our graduates have written their packets, written their theses, and yesterday and this morning we had the pleasure of seeing the fruits of those efforts in the form of their graduating student presentations.

For those of us who were present, I would suggest that we were witnessing, with each student, the unique blossom or fruit that has emerged from that very first seed that each of our graduates brought to Goddard at the beginning of this journey.

We have seen how they each embody their love for the world in their work. We have seen how each of them are addressing this history of colonization in some way – working with decolonizing translation, reconnecting love and medicine, working with language as a living body, bridging the apparent gap between language and music, exploring the deep ecologies of our gut biome, remembering breath and joy, creating new poetic forms for research. Their work is an unfurling of petals and tendrils, a ripening of fruits – sharing and nourishing and teaching us.

thistle of the centaurea genus-SVHIt is an incredibly vulnerable experience this flower and fruit business. It requires vulnerability to make yourself visible, and it requires vulnerability to witness someone’s beauty. But the reciprocity of visibility and recognition are essential to the fruition of knowing, doing and being. Together we have participated in this exquisite witnessing and listening, this sharing and recognition. This is the work of connection, of pollination, and of harvest.

And this is some of the juice and nourishment of belonging to a Beloved Community.

Speaking of Anishinaabe agriculture, and the practice of growing corn and beans and squash all together in one mound, Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us what the plants teach us: “The gifts of each are more fully expressed with they are nurtured together. In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps going.”

And so commencement. The end is a new beginning.delphinium larkspar-SVH

Our graduates will leave us. And their capacities to incubate, grow and share ideas in organic, purposeful ways are essential for the world, especially now and especially here. The world needs our graduates to envision and innovate, to make new connections, to implement and refine their visions, to teach, lead and build communities.

They leave us but with their seeds multiplied through this season of growth.

Anishinaabeg scholar Leanne Simpson says in an interview with Naomi Klein:

I think it’s about the fertility of ideas and the fertility of alternatives. One of the things birds do in our creation stories is they plant seeds and they bring forth new ideas and they grow those ideas. Seeds are the encapsulation of wisdom and potential and the birds carry those seeds around the earth and grew this earth. And I think we all have that responsibility to find those seeds, to plant those seeds, to give birth to these new ideas. Because people think up an idea but then don’t articulate it, or don’t tell anybody about it, and don’t build a community around it, and don’t do it.

So in Anishinaabeg philosophy, if you have a dream, if you have a vision, you share that with your community, and then you have a responsibility for bringing that dream forth, or that vision forth into a reality. That’s the process of regeneration. That’s the process of bringing forth more life.

So dear, beloved graduates:yanping wang-SVH

May the seeds of your potential, those magical packets of supercoiled cosmic mind, dripping as they are with the juice of this experience, be planted again and again and again.

May you respond to the pull of the sun and the warm wet earth beneath you.

May you not fear your own mystery.

May you trust your radical vision.

May you send out the most flamboyant blossoms into the world, seeking pollinators.

And may you find the communities that will Recognize who you are.

We are so grateful for what you have given us. Our hearts are full. We love you. We’ll miss you.


Posted in Creativity & Imagination, Deep Ecology & Bioregionalism, Ecology, Embodiment Studies, Goddard Graduate Institute, Graduation, Health Arts and Sciences, Interdisciplinary Studies, Methodology, Sarah Van Hoy | Leave a comment